HP, VMware Forge Closer Ties to Push Server Virtualization

May 29, 2003
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
This coverage originally appeared on ComputerWire:

Server maker Hewlett-Packard Co and virtual machine partitioning software maker VMware Inc yesterday announced they have significantly expanded thei partnership. Under the new deal, HP will sell VMware's Workstation, GSX Server, and ESX Server virtualization products on its own industry-standard PCs, workstations and servers. HP will also back the product with its worldwide services organization.

"Worldwide support for Windows and Linux platforms is a big deal for VMware, and it is a big deal for customers," says Diane Greene, president and CEO of VMware. And so is having big allies like HP. With Microsoft Corp gearing up to do its own virtualization for Windows-based servers and workstations after its acquisition of Connectix earlier this year, a strong alliance with HP is just what VMware needs to expand its sales and installed base before Microsoft figures out what to do and tries to crush VMware in its own Windows market. VMware, which has over 5,000 customers and which has been selling virtualization software for years, has a significant lead ove Microsoft, which has just gone into beta with its virtualization software last month. Perhaps most significantly, VMware has 1,500 customers using its high-end ESX Server and which gives VMware a big lead over Microsoft because the Connectix product is not as sophisticated as ESX Server.

While there are lots of technical differences between the VMware and Microsoft products, both essentially do the same thing, which is allowing multiple operating systems to run as guest environments inside virtual machine partitions. This software is becoming part and parcel of serve consolidation strategies on industry-standard machines, particularly in development and test environments but increasingly in production environments, because it allows companies to get the utilization of thei machines significantly higher than the 10% to 15% of CPU capacity that a server typically uses running its workloads. Virtual machine partitions allow distinct workloads to be shared rather than each workload trying to take over a machine. In a sense, they are used like the workload managers that have been part of mainframe, OS/400, and Unix environments for years.

HP will sell and support VMware's Workstation virtual machine, which allows users to run Windows and Linux operating systems side-by-side on a single machine. On the server side, HP says it will sell and support GSX Serve (which rides on top of a Linux or Windows operating system to carve out guest partitions into which Windows (server and desktop version), Linux, o NetWare instances can run. ESX Server gets right down to bare iron and carves up a server below the kernel level into partitions that can run Windows, Linux, or FreeBSD. ESX Server provides better isolation of virtual machine partitions, but it is also more expensive. Specifically, HP plans to support VMware's GSX Server and ESX Server on its ProLiant DL320, DL360, DL380, DL560, DL740, and DL760 servers; it will also support the VMware server products on its old ProLiant 8500 servers, which are still used at many customer sites.

Bobby Baker, the marketing executive at HP's Industry Standard Serve organization, says HP and VMware will be working to bring support fo virtual machine partitioning to HP's "QuickBlade" ProLiant BL 20p two-way and 40p four-way blade servers, which are based on Intel's Xeon DP and Xeon MP processors, respectively. Baker says HP does not have any plans to support VMware partitioning on the ProLiant BL 10e uniprocessor blades, which offer up to 280 processors per rack. He did say that if customers asked for such support, HP was willing to entertain the idea.

Baker obviously did not want to discuss in any detail what HP will do about supporting Microsoft's own virtual machine partitioning for Windows Serve 2003. HP will always give customers choices, and that means if the Microsoft Connectix software works, HP will probably support it. But if VMware's product, which will span more than multiple Windows partitions, is the more appealing, HP support might not amount to a hill of beans. All that Bake knows is there is demand for GSX Server and ESX Server in the HP ProLiant customer base, and he wants to close it.

Another good reason for VMware to have a strong partnership with HP is Intel's 64-bit Itanium chip. VMware only supports 32-bit Pentium and Xeon processors right now, and Greene says neither HP nor VMware want to comment about Itanium support for the VMware products right now. She says the demand coming from the market is for 32-bit Intel processors, and that is the business VMware is pursuing. But if and when Itanium takes off in the serve space, which it probably will with the advent of the "Madison" Itanium 2 this summer, clearly a co-development and co-marketing partnership with HP, which is the biggest supporter and seller of Itanium-based machines and will likely be for the foreseeable future, is the right thing for VMware to have.

As part of the agreement, HP's Services and Integration Services unit will take the lead in selling VMware's products. HP's Customer Service Organization will also do worldwide installation and support for the products, and VMware products will be available on new machines through the company's factory integration services offering. HP will charge the same prices for the products as VMware does.